With so much going on I’ve been a little behind on my postings but this one moves front and center since I was writing from inside a hotel room. Why? What happened to the house?
As many of you know, we recently moved into our new home. As part of any house purchase we had a home inspection, a wind assessment inspection, and a termite inspection (WDO report) performed to help in our purchase decision.
Based on the 3 reports we were able to negotiate the price down to allow for the house to be brought up to code which can be expensive. Namely, all plumbing had to be replaced and the house rewired. Termites weren’t an issue, but we would need to schedule regular pest control service and ‘keep an eye out for powder post beetle activity‘ (old infestation found, no longer active) to maintain a pest free environment. Unattended, this is one of those things that can cost you thousands of dollars to fix.
“According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), termites cost U.S. homeowners over $5 billion dollars a year in damages.”
The Pest Control Visit
On July 9th we had our home inspection & first service visit with Florida Pest Control to determine the type of service plans and frequency we might need. What we did not anticipate was our evaluation to go something like this…
Them: You want the good news or bad news first? Me: Let’s start with the bad Them: You have termites Me: What? That can’t be. We had a WDO inspection in January (2018) and got a clean bill of health in that area. Them: All I can say is you have termites and they have been active for some time. They were here when you had the inspection completed and still are. You can visibly see the damage (takes me around to show visible wood damage and active droppings). You have both subterranean and drywood termites as well as carpenter ants. -Were they a licensed company? Me: Yes Them: Who were they? Me: XYZ Termite and Pest Control, Inc. Them: I haven't heard of them. Do you have a copy of the report? Me: Yes! (Getting ready to race and locate a copy of the report but stops short…) Me: What was the good news? Them: You don’t have powder post beetles Me: Ugh!
The WDO Inspection Report
For those of you who don’t know, a WDO is a “wood destroying organism” (hence “WDO” for short) inspection commonly called “termite inspection report”. This is an assessment performed by a State licensed & certified (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – FDACS) pest inspector who inspects a home for visible evidence of damage & deterioration by wood destroying organisms. In the State of Florida, this usually includes dry wood termites (live in the walls, ceilings, floors & structure), subterranean termites (live in the soil entering the structure through wood that touches the ground) and powder post beetles among other things when evaluating an old 1920s house. If your WDO report includes any of these pests, a bank generally will not approve your loan until corrected and on a cash purchase it could be a deal breaker or price negotiation tool.
While my husband was still reeling from the devastating news of yet another unanticipated expense, all I could think of was armies of these little critters chomping away on our home. Chomp chomp chomp chomp chomp.
Termites account for more property damage in the U.S. than all natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, and earthquakes) combined.
The only place on the WDO report where the word “Termite” was found was in the inspection company name. Termites! I was pretty sure the company who issued the report would not admit the oversight (liability), the seller passed away the same month we moved in (so not in seller disclosure & probably unaware of the problem), and the house was a cash purchase. You don’t need to beat us over the head with a stick, we’ve been doing a pretty good job on our own. On the other hand, it’s a cute house with a huge backyard!
How serious is the problem?
If you are discussing termites, it is serious. They are small, ravenous, dedicated, “team players” with a reputation for destroying homes. It is difficult to estimate the number and size of the colonies working inside your wood (walls, framing, floors etc.) so estimating the amount of wood consumed and damaged is unknown. You can have multiple colonies (small, moderate or large) spread throughout your house or one really massive community at work. What is known is your cost of eradication is exceeded by damage repair costs which can sometimes surpass the original building costs. If there is ever a time not to procrastinate, this is it before conditions worsen.
Termites are social insects who love to live in colonies. They are also very voracious eaters 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They don’t stop for weekends, holidays or bad weather. While a single termite could take up to 3,144 years to eat a 1,000 square foot wood house, a colony of about 60,000 can eat about one foot of a 2×4 in 5 months, a cup of sawdust in 2 hours, and a large subterranean colony about a pound of wood per day.
Never underestimate the aggressiveness of these tiny insects and damage. What they lack in size they more than make up for in numbers and consumption.
How bad is it, Doc? How much damage?
If you have a thorough pest control inspector, he may be able to classify the degree of infestation from his evaluation. It’s nothing to bank money on, but it will give you a fair idea of what you are dealing with. Our main concern was whether the damage would be structural or aesthetic since this was an unforeseen expense in our plans. Of course, the only sure way to know the depth of penetration and scope of damages will be when you have another inspection or start any repairs. For us, we already knew our house sat vacant for 3+ years after the owner moved, so the infestation could have gone undetected for a few years or started in 2017 with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma which displaced pests as well as people. The only sure thing was the pests needed to be eradicated as soon as possible.
Subterranean and Drywood termites
Different insects require different extermination treatments which also applies to termites. We had both active “subterranean” termites and “drywall” termites which required two different treatments.
As the name implies, these termites live in the ground beneath and around your house to obtain moisture. They are soil based with a preference for wet or moist wood. While they are easier and less costly to treat, they are also more destructive and responsible for most of the property damage reported in the U.S. by termites. The only good note is that we did not have Formosan subterranean termites aka the “super termite”.
Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites survive above ground establishing colonies anyplace in your home that contains wood: your walls, floors, doors, joists, structure, studs, cabinets, furniture etc. This leads me to a side note: Buying furniture from a garage sale, antique furniture, and even a pre-owned piano should be checked or fumigated prior to bringing it into your home. Boxes = cardboard and should also not be kept in case of insect hitchhikers or residents hidden within. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. Hmmm, something to think about ’cause you just never know…
Treatment for Drywood termites
The most effective treatment for our drywood termites would be tent fumigation of the entire structure. A process that guarantees 100% eradication of all drywood termites, bugs, insects, and mammals. The entire house is covered with fumigation tarps and a concentration of Vikane™ gas fumigant (sulfuryl fluoride) is pumped in to the entire structure to replace all the oxygen with the gas. Sadly, we would have “prepare the house” and stay at a hotel room for a few of days.
Those nagging questions…
- Who will pull permits? Your pest control company will.
- What do you mean by prepare the house? I needed to empty the refrigerator & deep freeze removing everything: foods, fruits, vegetables, and beverages. All pantry foods not in factory sealed cans/bottles/jars need to be removed; all opened pantry items and those in zip lock bags and storage containers removed; non-canned items in the pantry removed; all plastic containers with food removed; all plastic containers with non-food items opened (for the gas to circulate & not “pocket” to release at a later time); all medications removed; all opened makeup removed; all opened personal hygiene items removed; all cabinets/drawers/chests/trunks opened; all appliances including dishwasher, refrigerator, oven, washer, dryer doors needed to be open; all corked items removed; all gas & pilot lights shut off; all living things removed including houseplants, live fish, bulbs, cats, dogs, and people; plastic covered pillows or mattresses removed or have the plastic removed.
- How long would we need to stay at a hotel? This could range anywhere between 3-5 days. Depends on the day of week the job is scheduled and if it includes a weekend since the fumigation teams don’t work Saturdays and Sundays. We were scheduled for Thursday, so we got the hotel room from Wednesday (pre-fumigation) to Tuesday (post-fumigation). The house would have 4 days to “marinade in gas” & kill termites. The aeration process would start Monday with the house unsealed to let air out and samples taken to ensure no gas toxins were in the air before being “cleared” to move back in. It would be safe for occupancy sometime that Monday, but when dealing with pets you try to minimize the stress. Anyway, we didn’t want to keep driving back & forth to see if it cleared, so better to wait another day. Leaving a day early guaranteed we didn’t have to rush out first thing Thursday morning with pets in tow and strangers in the house in case there were last minute instructions. Returning a day later also guaranteed that whenever we were ready to check out, the house would be safe. Anyway, this little event gave us time for a family vacation which the pets actually enjoyed! They’ve traveled with us so much they actually like hotel rooms, the new odors, and being spoiled with added menu items and pampering.
- Will I need to wash & wipe down everything before use? No, Vikane is a gas. The gas evaporates and leaves no residue. It does not “stick” to anything.
- What color is my tent? It’s bad enough your house has to wear the “collar of shame” house version, but please, please, please don’t let my house look like the circus has come to town with red and white stripes. Thankfully, we would get a solid “house-ly” color of dark green. Whew!
- Will fumigation kill termite eggs? No. It will not kill the eggs, but all the “worker” termites will be dead. Any young termites that have hatched post-fumigation will eventually die with no living adults or “workers” to care and gather food for them.
- Will fumigation kill other insects? Yes and No. The lethal dose of chemicals vary for different pests however, our concentration targets drywood termites so will kill carpenter ants, cockroaches, spiders, grasshoppers, lizards, silverfish, wasps, rodents and anything else unfortunate to be trapped inside the structure when gassed (including humans).
- Will fumigation kill powder post beetles (if active)? No. The amount required for powder post beetles is more lethal and can be as much as 10x the amount nTeeded for termites. They’re a lot hardier and more costly to kill.
How much is this going to cost?
For obvious reasons, it’s a case by case call where a number of factors come into play:
- Type of house construction.
- Size of house. Measured in linear footage, not square feet to determine the volume of space.
- Type of pest. Different pests require different concentrations of fumigant.
- Size/extensiveness of the infestation.
- Severity of problem.
- Type & concentration of gas.
For our house size & severity, the cost came in under $3,500 which also included treatment for the subterranean termites.
What can I say? We love our Florida Pest Control for saving our home!